Malcolm Gladwell’s Secret To Math (and what that has to do with the secret to prayer)

Secret to PrayerGladwell’s Secret To Math

My family and I were recently discussing what makes people good at math. My son Nathaniel, who’s in his early thirties, brought up something he read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Gladwell talks about a woman in her mid twenties named Renee who’s trying to solve a math problem as part of a research project. Renee is sitting at a computer that allows you to type in x and y axis values to produce a curve. It’s basic rise over run math stuff that we all learned in junior high school or high school (but nearly all of us have since forgotten).

If you’re like me and you’ve forgotten, Gladwell provides a brief example. If the value of the rise on the y axis = 5, and the value of the run on the x axis = 5, then the slope = 1. Because the rise over run is 5 over 5, and 5/5 = 1.

So this woman Renee is sitting at the computer trying to solve a problem. And while she’s doing this, a Cal Berkeley professor and researcher named Alan Schoenfeld is sitting next to her. Schoenfeld knows the problem Renee is trying to solve is impossible. But she wasn’t told that it’s impossible. What she was told, was to enter values that will create a line that is perfectly vertical. But the problem is impossible because a vertical line requires a rise value of infinity and a run value of 0. And infinity divided by 0 doesn’t produce a number.

So she’s sitting there at this computer. And she starts entering in values. And she fiddles around. And she enters some more values. And then she fiddles some more. The whole while she’s talking to herself. And as she fiddles and experiments, her values for y get larger and larger. And the larger they get, the closer the line gets to the y axis. But no matter how large a value she assigns to y it never gets there.

Finally, after twenty-two minutes of trial and error, Renee experiences a eureka moment and she says, “Oh… A vertical line is anything divided by zero, and that’s an undefined number. Now I see.”

Schoenfeld videotapes these sessions and Renee’s is Schoenfeld’s favorite video, because Renee best exemplifies the secret to math.

Schoenfeld has observed countless students working on math problems. And most of them, when presented with a problem like Renee’s, give up–within 30 seconds. What they typically do is they stop. And then they declare to Schoenfeld that they don’t get it. And they say they need him to explain it to them.

But Renee didn’t give up after 30 seconds. In fact, Renee didn’t give up at all, and that’s what made the difference.

What’s funny is our perception of those who are good at math is that they have some sort of innate ability that’s absent from those who aren’t good at math. But Schoenfeld disagrees. According to Schoenfeld, and Gladwell, the real secret is persistence. Persistence, and a willingness to work hard, even if it takes a long time, is the real secret to solving the problem. (Gladwell)

Jesus’ Secret To Prayer

It’s interesting to see that Gladwell used a woman to demonstrate his secret to math, and Jesus uses a woman to illustrate his secret to prayer.

There she was, before the judge again. And he wasn’t a good judge either. He had no fear of God, and he had no respect for men. But she was there–again. And she said, “Give me legal protection from my adversary.”

And at first he said, no.

And for awhile, he continued to say no.

But she just kept coming. And finally he said, “Even though I don’t fear God or respect men, I’ll give her what she wants, because she won’t stop, and she makes me weary.”

He told us that parable to show us we should pray all the time, as the widow petitioned the judge. And that we should not lose heart. Even if it takes a long time. (Luke 18:1-5)

Jesus also said to “ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) And sometimes answers to prayers do come quickly. We ask and just as Jesus says, God gives to us. But other times there’s seeking and knocking involved. And we have to not give up even as Renee did not give up until she figured out Schoenfeld’s impossible problem. We have to pray all the time, persistently, in the same way the widow petitioned the judge.

So don’t lose heart. Even if it takes a long time before your answer comes.

Keep praying.

Don’t lose heart.

And never give up.

“Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” -Jesus Christ, Luke 18:6-8

NOTES:

Persistence wasn’t the only secret to math that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book. Culture and language were also cited. But persistence was the foremost reason.

References:

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Little, Brown and Company, November 18, 2008

Image via Jeremy Lim – Creative Commons

It’s Okay To Pray For Your Body

It’s okay to pray for your body. Sometimes we can get into a mindset that our bodies are bad, and spiritual things are what’s good. Or that we should pray exclusively for the bodies of others, and not for ourselves, because that would be selfish. But Jesus told us to pray for our bodies’ needs. “Give us this day our daily food,” he said.

God designed bodies.

God created bodies.

God loves bodies.

It’s good to pray for your body.

Pray.

References:

Ray Stedman, When Prayer Becomes Personal

Why Did Jesus Pray Anyway?

why did Jesus prayWhy Did Jesus Pray Anyway?

Ever ask yourself that question? Why would Jesus, God incarnate Himself, why would He ever pray? I mean, Jesus is the One who in the beginning was the Word. Jesus was with God, and He was God. And all things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (see John 1:1-3)

But He still prayed.

So why? Why did He pray?

Love–And Something Surprising

Part of the answer is Jesus was Continue reading

The Fire That Burned 11 Homes (and what that has to do with praying to God)

how to pray

The Fire That Burned 11 Homes

One time I was on a fire that destroyed eleven homes in Ashland, Oregon. One of our tactics on that fire was to use helicopters to drop water on the burning houses. When the helicopters began operating it was important to keep them from dropping water on one particular house where firefighters were working inside. That’s because a helicopter water drop can push fire in all directions, in spectacular fashion, which is very cool to watch. Most of the time when it happens, if the house is well involved, fire just explodes out of every window and door in the place. But because it blows fire all over, a water drop from a helicopter can cause serious injury or even death to anyone fighting fire inside.

So with a couple of crews inside this house and with the helicopters flying all over doing their water drops, I became concerned that they would drop on the house with my guys inside. So I called command on the radio.

“Command from Oak Knoll Division,” I said. “Direct the helicopters NOT to drop on the house directly across from 8106.”

Command responded, “Copy, send a helicopter to drop water directly on the house across from 8106.”

Of course that was exactly what I did not want them to do. Continue reading

Female Logic At Starbucks

Female Logic Starbucks

Female Logic:

So this morning Kathy and I are walking out of Starbucks, and we’re crossing the drive through lane. And a guy driving an SUV is heading right for Kathy. So I grabbed her arm and guided her out of the way.

And she says, “What’s the big deal?”

And I said, “That dude just bought a coffee, maybe he’s a little distracted, and he’s headed right for you.”

And she said, “So what! The cops would have nailed him for hitting me anyway.”

Sigh.

(I know what you’re thinking, but there’s no need to fear for my safety–sharing this story was Kathy’s idea.)

[Image via Gexydaf – Creative Commons]

My Desperate Prayer (and how God answered)

Meaning of LifeYes, I know. Last post I said it was the last post on suffering. But I couldn’t let the series end without a short word on prayer. Prayer and suffering are just too connected to end it without addressing the issue of prayer.

My Desperate Prayer

I walked alone into the woods of the Rogue Valley, in Oregon. I wasn’t a Christian, but I was there to pray. I was making that hike and praying like that fairly often, because I was desperate for two things. One, I needed a job. Kathy was eight months pregnant with our first son Gabe. We were living in an 8′ x 24′ travel trailer and borrowing from my parents to make the rent. The shower was so small, and Kathy was so pregnant, that she couldn’t pick up a bar of soap if she dropped it. And I was unemployed.

The second thing I prayed for was strange because I wasn’t a Christian. The second thing I prayed for was Christian friends. Peculiar, I know. But I was so intrigued by Jesus that I wanted to learn more. And I felt the need to connect with other Christians so I could find out all I could about him.

I never saw God’s answer coming. The way He answered that prayer was completely outside of my imagination. I’ll share what He did Continue reading

The First, The Last, My Everything (What Barry White’s song has to do with suffering)

God First

This is the last blog post in the series on suffering and what you’re about to read are the most important words written in the series. You can do everything written so far concerning suffering, but if you don’t have this right, it all falls apart. (To read the whole series, just click on Suffering under the CATEGORIES heading in the right hand column of the God Running home page.)

Barry White’s Take On Love

Barry White used to perform a song called You’re The First, The Last, My Everything. And in that song, he’s singing about a woman, and here are a few things he says about her:

You are “my everything, …the answer to all my dreams.”
You are “…my sun, my moon, my guiding star, …that’s what you are.”
“You’re all I’m living for, you’re love I’ll keep forever more”
“…see so many ways that I, can love you ’til the day I die.”
“You’re the first, you’re the last, my everything.”

When a young man loves a woman like that, nothing else seems to matter. The head gasket blows out in his car, so now he has to borrow his parents’ champaign colored 1998 Lincoln Continental with a torn headliner, but he doesn’t care so much. Because he has her. And like the song says, she’s all he’s living for.

Then the new video game he bought arrives from Amazon. He’s excited about it until he finds it doesn’t work with one of the components on his home built computer. But that’s not so bad. Because he has her. And she’s his sun, his moon, his guiding star.

Then his best friend tells him he lost his trilogy of the Rings DVD set (Blu-ray). But it’s not such a big deal. Because he has her. And she’s his first, his last, and his everything.

But, what happens when it’s over?

It’s worth noting, Barry White’s first wife Continue reading

Do This In 2015 And See What Happens

bible study new years resolution 2015Life And Growth vs. Lifeless Rearrangment

Living things grow and change. A redwood tree begins as a seed in the ground. Then it grows, it changes, it transforms into a noble conifer more than 300 feet tall. An eagle begins as an egg. Then it grows, changes, and transforms into a great bird who can see what others can’t, and can soar where others aren’t capable.

Things without life don’t grow. They don’t transform. Things without life, they just rearrange. A sand dune shifts its shape in the wind. The waters of a flood are really just waters rearranged. Even an avalanche, as awe-inspiring as it may be, is just rearrangement. It’s not alive.

But you are.

Do this in 2015:

Continue reading

Top 10 Posts of 2014 On God Running

God Running Top 10 2014God was so good to us in 2014 here at God Running. The highlight for me personally happened when Kathy and I were able to meet up with a few readers on the other side of the country from where we live in Oregon. (If you’re interested, you can read about that here: Brothers in Christ)

Of course anytime you like you can see what’s trending at the present moment on God Running, simply by looking at the list of titles in the right hand column on the home page. But if you’re interested in which posts were the most popular for 2014, check out the list below. (not in reverse order–for your viewing convenience)

1) Steve Mays’ Life Of Suffering (And how God healed him) Growing up, Steve Mays was a good student and a well behaved son, at least until junior high school. That’s when he was molested, by a teacher. And that event changed his life. After he was sexually abused, Steve raged against any authority figure, including his parents. He struggled with drug addiction. He joined a motorcycle gang. The police were after him for murder.

Then God intervened.

2) The Holy Spirit: How to Know if You Have Him Easily the most popular post of all time on God Running.

If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you’ve received the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit (in the way Jesus’ disciples did when God used them to save the souls of 3,000 men in one morning) then this is the post that will answer your question.

3) Both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father–Genesis 19 Continue reading

The 5 Different Types Of Christmases

Christ in Christmas

The photo at the top of this post is of my family and me during one of our past Christmases. Christmas takes different shapes for different people different years. Today we identify five different types of Christmases and what they look like. As you read about them, see if you recognize yours.

1) The Going to Dad and Mom’s Christmas

On the way to Dad and Mom’s, your stream of consciousness sounds something like this: “I’m bored already and we’re not even there yet. The Cavs play the Heat tomorrow, and I won’t see it. I wonder if any bad blood will boil over. I hope Dad doesn’t bug me about my job. Battle of the 5 Armies is out. No chance we’ll see that. I hope he doesn’t tell me why he thinks libertarians are “clueless.” Yeah, “clueless.” That was the word he used last time. I think I have one of the Lord of the Rings movies on my phone–maybe, if I sit at the table and hold my phone low…”

2) The People Coming Over Christmas

Oh those three words, people-coming-over, and what they mean. The People Coming Over Christmas means, do these things, and do them fast: Clean the house. Fix the broken doorknob. Run to the store and buy a new doorknob because you couldn’t fix the broken doorknob. Hide the Continue reading